Aaron Schock’s Tuesday began with a quiet early-morning stroll near the Capitol with his close friend, Missouri Rep. Jason Smith. Sporting shorts and a sweatshirt, Schock’s eyes frequently darted down to his iPhone.
Within hours, his once-promising congressional career would be over. Schock’s resignation, effective March 31, came so abruptly that the Illinois Republican didn’t even give Speaker John Boehner or his leadership team a heads up. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had been planning to keep Schock on the GOP’s vote-counting team. Fellow congressmen from Illinois also had no idea.
“He told no one. As far as I know, no other member (of Congress) knew,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said shortly after Schock’s announcement around 2 p.m. “I don’t even think his staff knew.”
Schock’s decision to quit – on the heels of questions from POLITICO about tens of thousands of dollars seemingly phony mileage reimbursements – represents the denouement of a boom-and-bust saga starring one of the Republican Party’s most promising young figures. The 33-year-old rocketed from the Peoria school board to Congress in less than a decade, amassing power, prestige and prominence on the national political scene. By the end of last year, he was eyeing a seat at the House GOP leadership table.
But his penchant for the good life kept pace, which at times irked fellow Republicans. He demanded posh hotels and private jets, eliciting eye rolls at the National Republican Congressional Committee. He jetted around the globe, with a professional photographer in tow to document his life for Instagram. He hired the wife of a donor to redecorate his office to look like PBS’s “Downton Abbey.” He booked private planes to take him back to Illinois and a donor’s helicopter in his district.
But Schock’s accounting of those activities was sloppy at best.
On Monday evening, POLITICO began asking questions about tens of thousands of dollars of reimbursements he received from his campaign and federal government for mileage put on his personal car. Records show that Schock personally claimed reimbursement for roughly 170,000 miles driven from January 2010 to July 2014. But the only vehicle he owned during that time was sold with just 80,000 miles on the odometer.
Asked for his response to those findings, Schock announced his resignation.
“The constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself,” he said in a statement. “I have always sought to do what’s best for my constituents and I thank them for the opportunity to serve.”
Later that day, Schock’s office said he would pay back all of the mileage reimbursements he has received since coming to Congress in 2009. That would amount to tens of thousands of dollars — on top of the tens of thousands he’s already had to reimburse for a private flight and the cost of redecorating his office.
Schock’s associates — many of whom are afraid to speak for attribution, fearing potential legal action — say a combination of immaturity, sloppiness and an oversized ego led to his downfall. He came to Congress as an eager 27-year-old, raised a lot of money and spent it at a rapid clip.
Scrupulous accounting, it appeared, was not a priority. On one election filing, Schock labeled a private flight as a software purchase. He failed to disclose trips abroad, as well as the use of a private golf course for a fundraiser in 2014.
There are also outstanding questions about whether Schock improperly accepted gifts, including a trip to London in 2011 that included multi-course dinners with Prince Charles and a personally engraved plate worth hundreds of dollars.
In an interview with POLITICO last week, Schock could not answer definitively whether he broke the law or accepted improper gifts, saying he is “not an attorney.”
The congressman had tried to get ahead of the scandal, hiring top ethics lawyers and two senior GOP communications operatives once news outlets began looking into his office and campaign finances. He announced an internal audit of his accounting practices and said he would use a compliance specialist to ensure his federal campaign filings were accurate.
But Schock was plainly struggling to deal with the media onslaught as his attorneys simultaneously reviewed his accounting. He canceled several fundraisers, and some of his Republican colleagues questioned whether he would be able to weather the growing scandal. His office stopped responding to several inquiries, including questions about a limited liability corporation he set up using his home address and the purchase of land from a donor.
With controversy swirling around him, two Republicans announced they would challenge him in a primary. That threat would have been unthinkable months earlier, since Schock was widely known for spreading campaign largesse to local pols.
The National Republican Conngressional Committee — the campaign arm that Schock once helped raise millions for — wasted no time after his resignation preparing for a successor. The party committee is considering at least two potential replacement candidates for a special election that is expected in mid-July. GOP leaders say they are confident they can hold Schock’s seat in a safe red district.
“I was saddened to hear about my colleague Aaron Schock’s resignation from Congress,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.). “Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his departure, he brought youth and energy to Congress and was dedicated to serving the needs of his constituents.”